Fantasia Week 2: Mid-Festival Screenings

*Some of the films featured in this article are contain content such as trauma and sexual misconduct allegations* 

Remi's picks:

For the second week of the festival, i've only Tuesday and Wednesday to get in as many films as possible while Fantasia is at the center of Concordia’s downtown campus. I also had some screenings that I got to view over the weekend. In between work and film viewing , I still made time for our first film from our Ben Kingsley retrospective, Gandhi, a 3 hour historical epic. Wednesday will be the biggest day of the festival, with three films back to back with a little 30 minute break between all of them, as well as hoping to catch an evening screening of Nope in IMAX since I really enjoyed it the first time around. 

Dark Nature can be described as a nature survivalist horror film, a not so common subgenre, from director Berkley Brady. After being the survivor of an abusive relationship Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson) is persuaded by her friend Carmine (Madison Walsh) to come on a nature retreat that involves hiking the Rocky Mountains amongst a group of survivors who are overcoming traumas holding them back. Leading this group of survivors and helping them would be Dr. Dunnley (Kyra Harper) who is a specialist in helping people overcome their traumas. As the track continues moving forward so do the flashbacks of past traumas, leading Joy to discover that they may not be alone out in the wilderness when flashbacks of her abusive partner start to resurface and open old wounds. It’s not many nature survivalist horror films that have an all female lead, reminiscent of The Decent (2005) where the female  characters are empowered and support each other rather than the cliché deaths of horror films. Berkly Brady is one of those directors that focuses on images and the sound design of the film, providing the audience with an immersive experience and pairs well with the short feature accompanying short film, Where The Witch Lives. 

When we think of Japan and Tokyo we can imagine a city that is full of life and electricity that would be a simple documentary to explore. Director Nao Yoshigai takes a different side of Japan to explore in a fairy-tale-like documentary Shari, that observes the remote town located near the Shiretoko Peninsula on the easternmost part of Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. It is a culture shock to many who immediately associate Tokyo with Japan, not knowing about the small isolated town. We see the local community including a baker, deer hunters and a group of school children during the interviews about this nomadic town. There is also the reality of climate change issues having dramatic impactsto the natural and ecological society of the Shiretoko Peninsula. The closing of the film sees director Nao Yoshigai returning to Japan circa February 2020 right when the first of many COVID lockdowns would begin. 

Continuing with another documentary feature, Out In The Ring is not “Documentaries from the Edge” section of the festival, however I feel that it is one of the most important ones at the festival. Directed by Ry Levey the documentary explores the marginalized yet vibrant culture of LGBT2IA+ participation and expression when it comes to the professional sport of wrestling. Tracing back the early days of the sport itself wrestling had those members in their community, however their sexuality and expression was kept silent or hidden under the ring. During the ‘90s it became more of a form of entertainment when the WWF was formed still being plagued by that same machoism toxicity, homophobia and had issues with sexual misconduct. Charting a course to the present day, there are more independent wrestling organizations including AWE that present a positive environment for wrestlers to have the freedom of character and identity with no implications on their career or social life. Even though there has been some positivity, there has been some backlash against some wrestlers on internet comment forms and recently the sexual misconduct allegations have resurfaced in the WWE federation against founder Vince McMahon forcing him to step aside. 

One of the true experiences of the Fantasia Film Festival is when you go in with your expectation for a film but it turns out to be a different direction than you expected. So is the case with Chorokbam from director Yoon Seo-Jin. From the synopses of the film, being a dead cat hanging by its neck is the start of a bad omen for a family that is on the gradual course for a downfall in this horror debut. Where this film delves deep into the concepts of death, tragedy, grief and how these affect people differently at all stages. For example, a big fight breaks out against the siblings at a funeral procession for the father figure. There are still elements of horror in the film however they are done so in a meditative fashion to make the characters grapple with the notion of death, grief and tragedy. 

My final film of the night on Tuesday was screened at the Cinematheque Quebecoise was a retro screening of director Jean-Claude Lord’s first English feature Visiting Hours. Michael Ironside plays Colt Hawker,  a misogynistic killer that assaults a feminist journalist Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) trying to defend an innocent victim of domestic abuse that is accused of killing her husband. When Deborah survives the attack she is sent to a hospital where she is cared for by a sympathetic nurse (Linda Purl) and co-worker (William Shatner). Soon the nurse and Deborah both find themselves in the crosshairs of Colt who will stop at nothing. Part of the early slasher boom of the ‘80s, this feature played well with the Fantasia audience in attendance who laughed at the campy moments of the film, and cheered when Deborah got her revenge on Colt. 

The two first films that I caught a screening of on Wednesday were more experimental features that have the common thread of an auditory and visual experience, rather than a concrete narrative structure. Topology of Sirens from director Jonathan Davies has somewhat of a narrative structure as Cas (Courtney Stephens) discovers some micro-cassettes hidden in her aunt's hurdy-gurdy instrument. This then leads her and the audience on a meditative audio mystery of environmental sounds and experimental music. Extremely reminiscent of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria that I saw this year. The film hits all the right notes in an audio sonic journey that anyone studying music, sound engineering or electro acoustics will enjoy. 

Happer’s Comet from director Tyler Taormina is more ambiguous when it comes to a clear narrative, however a description of the feature is a mid-night mosaic of a suburban town steeped into alienation. However some of the residents plan a sweet and swift escape into the Americana landscape. From the late night driver just trying to keep his eyes open on the road, another one having car issues being pushed by two teenagers, and the multiple characters rollerblading into the infinite night. There are strong themes of capturing environmental sound, but as well a visual mosaic of the Americana landscape of a small town when the COVID pandemic hit and all we wanted to do was go out into the infinite night, despite the government curfew. One thing that kept on resonating with me while watching this film was M83’s album Hurry Up, We’re Daydreaming which would be the perfect pairing soundtrack to this film.  

My final film viewing of the week got my first Letterboxd heart, for those familiar with the website. The Diabetic from director Mitchell Stafiej follows Alec, a type one diabetic, return to his home in Montreal’s West Island, which has become sort of a lonely wasteland in the hopes to catch up with his friends and relive his teenage glory days. His only friend that he reconnects with is Matt. As much as Matt has grown up and has moved on from his teenage days, Alec still tries his best to remember them and it sometimes gets him into trouble. A night on the town reconnecting with friends, old girlfriends and making new friends turns into a nightmare after a while for Alec, one he can’t wake up from and most confront. Alec’s character can be seen as a high anxiety inducing character that you may want to look away from and not support all of his choices as he escalates situations like Howard from Uncut Gems, even though the audience that I watched it with found some comedic elements.  Where this film truly finds it’s merit is the aesthetic nature of the film being filmed Hi-8 and then converted into 16mm shines through during Alec’s nightmare scenes. 

Sadly personal commitments foiled my plan at a second screening of Nope in IMAX, and i'm hoping to rectify this next week. BJ Novak's new film Vengeance is out in theaters and there is a rerelease of Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. How does a cinephile contend to make time as the Fantasia Film Festival wraps up next week? Stay tuned to see how all fares in my film viewings. 

Danny Aubry's picks:

On Friday July 29, 2022, I found myself downtown at the Salle J.A. Deseve building of Concordia University attending the Fantasia Film Festival. There were three films in particular which really stood out to me that were scheduled to be shown on that day. One of which was a film I had expressed an interest in seeing within my previous Fantasia article. I spent about six hours in that auditorium watching those three films realizing that they all had an underlying theme in common pertaining to global issues. I feel that this theme is prevalent to talk about in our society today. 

SHARI is a documentary fairy tale film from Japan directed by Nao Yoshigai. The film focuses on a particular Japanese village known as Shari. Throughout the film we meet up with some very interesting people who live in this village, such as a Shepherd who loves to bake bread, a Hunter who has a taste for deer meat, and a collector who loves to collect rare items. However, the most interesting character in the film would undeniably be a beast covered in red fur known as the Red Thing. I was rather fond of the sound score of the film especially when eerie music would play every time the Red Thing was shown. There was also a comedic aspect of the film, as I personally found it funny how a group of elementary school kids reacted when they saw the Red Thing in person. On a more serious note, the film touches upon the climate crisis, indicating how it has impacted the village of Shari and its resources. This film was apparently Nao Yoshigai's directorial debut, and I applaud her for what she did with it, putting together a unique blend of eeriness, comedy, and also going out of her way to remind us of the seriousness of the climate crisis.

What's up Connection is a drama, comedy film from both Japan and Hong Kong directed by Masashi Yamamoto. Its main focus is a Chinese teenaged boy named Chi Gau Shin who lives with his family in a fishing village in Hong Kong. Gau Shin wins a trip to Japan, and then brings home some interesting characters once his trip is done, such as the tour guide he had throughout his trip and an eccentric kleptomaniac. However, that is not the worst of it, as a greedy Japanese business man somehow kept track of Gau Shin's footsteps and followed him back to Hong Kong. When the business man visited Gau Shin's family, he expressed an interest in purchasing the village they live in, so that he can have condo's placed within, which would involve them having to leave. All the members of Gau Shin's family, as well as the tour guide, and the kleptomaniac all get together to figure out ways to prevent the land from being taken from them. I really enjoyed this film because I found it to be quite funny, for example some of the crazy idea's Gau Shin's family came up with to chase away the greedy business man was funny, and the drunken stupidity that Gau Shin encountered throughout his trip to Japan was also comical. It also reminds us to be cautious of the corruption within the world we live in, indicating how the greedy fat cats love to leech off the little guy, so to speak.

Whether the Weather is Fine is a drama from the Philippines directed by Carlo Francisco Manatad. Its main characters of the film are Miguel, his mother Norma and his girlfriend Andrea. They are survivors of the natural disaster known as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. This was a film I had mentioned within my previous article I had wanted to see, and fortunately it did not disappoint. The acting within it was up to par, I was especially impressed with the performance of Daniel Padilla who portrayed Miguel. Miguel was a character who had to put up with his quick-tempered girlfriend and his hysteric mother while trying to find ways to survive. Daniel Padilla portrayed the character in a fashion that made it easy to empathize with him. The film outlines the sad reality of what occurs after a natural disaster strikes, such as people losing their homes, being separated from their friends and family, and fighting with one another for food and possessions. This film is if anything a reminder to us to never take what we have for granted.

As aforementioned, global issues were themes each of these films had in common. For Shari, it was the climate crisis, for What's up Connection, it was corruption, and for Whether the Weather is Fine it was natural disasters. In order to avoid getting too political, I'll simply state that one sure way to lessen the seriousness of these issues and whatever else surrounds them, is for the human collective to unite as much as possible. United we stand, divided we fall. I would now like to finish off by extending my gratitude and thanks to all those who organized the Fantasia Film Festival this year and for providing us all with the opportunity to enjoy the Festival downtown once again.     

As always, bon cinéma! 

Remi and Danny host At The Movies, which can be heard every Tuesday morning from 8:00 - 9:00AM. Tune in for discussions about movies, soundtracks, and iconic film scores. At The Movies also covers film festivals that are located in Montreal.